Sunday, 26 January 2014

Nightcap and Baby Bodice

One of the main reasons for old four poster beds, with their side curtains and overhead canopy, was to keep the falling debris from the roof from falling on your face while asleep. Many of the very old houses and cottages did not have plastered ceilings and the roof rested on beams and trusses with not much protection from the outside weather - birds and rodents were able to run about up there and send showers of straw, leaves and rubbish down on the sleepers and the peasants protected their heads with night caps - I have had dozens of these from country dealers (in demand for 'bonnet and lace' films) and very often, like this one,(D), they have the neatest little initials worked on them - they can be pulled out in two ways so you always have a clean tassel available. The tiny bodice is of course for a baby and what it was supposed to cure, prevent or correct I do not know, let's hope it was just to keep a tiny body warm and to button to something called a pilch (a sort of bag to hold the nappies in). Costume people please correct me. Either are collectable and are probably early 20c. but already obsolete and not likely to re-appear in our wardrobes. See also No peeps for Tom post. All articles shown are now sold.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014


Stables and coach house, packing sheds and tractor shed at our Essex Regency home awaiting restoration!
   As I completed the furnishing of my Regency house in the late 50s. and my husband had laid his plans for a large new garden on the site of old and derelict  fruit (peach) glasshouses, we decided to make a small business out of these two features, not exactly a stately home, but a well furnished house and interesting garden.   I had grouped all my embroidered silk pictures on the blank walls, used colourful textiles on the beds, Persian and Paisley shawls were cheap and beautiful, and displayed my collection of feather bird pictures, large and Victorian, and others, small and Regency.   Some of the curtains were new Warner designs from the nearby weaving town, Braintree, and I remember my top price limit was 27shillings per yard.  But my best curtains for the drawing room were a wonderful golden silk damask set, probably Spitalfields, early 19c. bought in Milsom Street, Bath, which had been used in the ballroom of Cricket St.Thomas, Som. a true stately home!  And they were my greatest bargain ever @ £80 the lot, complete with cords, tassels, silk fringes all round and hall-marked silver tie-back hooks!  I still have them!  I found an 18c. Hepplewhite mahogany 4 poster bed covered in cream paint in an advert in the Exchange and Mart trade magazine.  It was in Maidstone and we collected it on our way back to Essex from a French holiday, and found that there were in fact two beds, all for £10!  It took me a year to strip and re-polish the bed.  Those were the days, if you had some energy and time to search.  I was quite patient and collected very slowly, waiting for the bargains!
     The gardens were planned to be minimal maintenance, with wide paved paths and a big mix of flowering shrubs and perennial border plants, and masses of  ground cover ( a new feature in those days).
     We decided to open the gardens and part of the house to groups every day during the summer season and keep it private to one coach party at a time, with a really good home-made cream tea.  In no time, we were fully booked and the modest charges were a great help to pay for the labour we needed to complete our plans.
     Our parties were mostly from outer London, female,  and they enjoyed looking at 'real' bedrooms where my 3 daughters slept in the holidays, and there were many who knew a lot about handwork and embroidery.    They were delightful groups, mostly W.I.s and over 60s  and we did not have to advertise after the first season.  They were able to buy plants similar to those seen in our gardens and I added my own marmalade and honey from my beehives to the sales table as everyone wanted to take something home!.
        With all these modest enterprises, we were able to finance improvements over the years, and when we sold up 25 years later, the whole small estate was in excellent order and we were able to sell it well, and move to a Georgian house near Bath.  (To be continued,see post BLOG BIOGRAPHY)

Thursday, 16 January 2014


Get a load of this! The names and addresses above are now out of date.  See below.
  This textile fair is a repeat of a very successful fair we had here in Bradford on Avon, near Bath last MAY.   We had 27 stalls with private and trade sellers, all clearing out surplus stuff from their stores, trunks and attics and we also had several hundred eager buyers who were delighted to snap up unusual and diverse bargains -  There were most interesting souvenirs of foreign travel, inherited treasures from Grannies and Aunties, all rescued from their hiding places and seeing the light of day once more.   If you would like to take part in this cheerful, informal clear-out and make some money with unwanted things, apply now by Email as I have three empty slots.  Even if you have never taken part in a sale, you will find this quite easy and good fun with lots of helpful comrades.  I will send you all details, but do not delay!  Sunday, June 15th, 2014, 9am - 3.00pm.Elizabeth Baer    Email    The fair is now fully booked, but you could always leave your name for the waiting list.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Answering back!

   I still haven't discovered how to answer some of the kind and helpful comments that my readers post! So, Gillyflower, you are quite right in saying that a lot more people are aware of prices and values, thanks to T.V. and masses of info in the Press.  On the whole, this is a good thing and means that people don't throw away interesting and valuable items that they buy, inherit or find in the attics!  On the other hand I often wonder if this is because most of all, they are interested in the money, or whether this gives them a taste for beauty and design?    Personally, if you told me that a Martinware owl jug was worth several thousand pounds to a collector, it would not make me love it any more!    I hate them!
    I am glad that you are interested in my progress as a home maker, furnishing first a little Mews house in London when first married, through a modest Queen Anne village house with attractive joinery for windows and doors, and mantlepieces and staircase, and lovely panelling, (so not much decoration needed), on to a large and demanding Regency country house in Essex.  The final selection of furniture and belongings came when we 'retired' to the West country - first a village house with a large garden and then, our final present abode, a lovely Palladian -fronted house in a small market town.      I was so lucky to have some  practice with all the different houses and styles and to get the hang of planning and disposing and swapping furnishings and I came to enjoy it hugely and find it all very exciting.    When I started up in the antiques world with no training or mentor, I found I was able to help some of the customers with their plans, and supplying them to make their homes comfortable, livable and attractive was truly a great joy for me.  As I increased my stock and knowledge of the French market, I met so many interesting people, film wardrobe ladies in particular but also those from theatre and opera, architects,  interior designers and many different skilled and artistic people who were producing new fabrics, furniture and decorations.  The 80s was a great time for new furnishing styles and ideas and I was so lucky that I was 'in' from the beginning.  People had some money to spend and were changing their lifestyle from the very formal to a much more decorative look, so there was lots of scope for me!
I hope this little diary of my past life will give you some idea of the great times I have had with houses and their furnishings.

Monday, 13 January 2014


A French hand embroidered down bed cushion, with coloured paper background
Below, an all white embossed pique cushion
not very visible despite a good light and flash.

I am still a novice in all the skills of scanning, printing and blog networking, but I find the exploring, learning part quite fun and venture to pass on my tips for sending recognisable and revealing pictures of fine textured white linen and lace. I remembered recently that when my eldest daughter Caroline went to a very basic and old-fashioned Domestic Science College in Eastbourne, one of their weekly tests involved presenting a perfectly laundered piece of embroidery and lace. They were taught to pin pale blue tissue paper behind so that the designs showed up well. (They also learnt how to make Calf's Foot Jelly for invalids - shades of Mrs Beeton). I found some dark blue tissue, 'acid free and bleed resistant', in my local stationers and when I sent 'improved' images to USA and Australia they were good enough to sell the items over there. It works for drawn thread work and anything with holes and 'brides' as in Richelieu lace. When trying to catch the pattern on damask linen I find it best to make a tidy 1/2 crease across the centre of the piece being scanned and the light catches some of the glossy design. Not perfect, but better than a large expanse of flat white stuff that means nothing much to a possible buyer. In another Blog I will explain the Rule of 3 (another Eastbourne laundry rule!)

Friday, 3 January 2014


IRONING   Having ironed literally hundreds of heavy linen sheets as well as mountains of pillow cases, table cloths and napkins, ready for sale,  I know how important it is to have all the whites immaculate and smooth  and I pass on the following hints:  it's most important to have the linen just moist enough so that the very hot iron will smooth it crisp and even.  If it is dry one end and a bit too damp the other, i.e. from a washing line, just fold it up into four, aligning all the edges and corners and then roll it very tightly.  If it is just perfect, and you haven't got time to do the ironing, you can always put it in the top of a chest deep freezer where it will stay damp (tip from a friend in Texas where the hot wind dries everything very fast!) or store temporarily in a large poly. bag.  Do not store linen permanently in poly bags as you are liable to get mildew from the damp that linen absorbs, and that is very difficult to remove.
You can use a hand-spray bottle of clean soft water to mist the ironing  all over, but this is quite a lengthy job, so I have my own aid - a large wine bottle filled up and with a cork that I have notched all round and pushed into the bottle so that when I shake it, lots of large drops come out and then I roll the linen up as described above and postpone doing the work by an hour or two!  If your water is very hard, even the best steam irons soon get furred up, so get a can of distilled water (garage) or use it from a defrosted fridge, or dehumidifier, (it stores quite well but label it  NOT for drinking) when it will have no chalk or lime in it and leave no deposits inside the iron's water tank which then block the little steam vents.

  I hardly ever use starch, as it tends to yellow with age, but it is very useful for collars and cuffs, and if I am using one of my best sheets with lace and embroidery on the top fold-down border, I just dip that part in so it stays looking good when the bed is slept in and gets very rumpled.  An exception is to starch the French fine muslin cornelli window nets lightly which would otherwise hang very limply and absorb too much dust and smoke from the air.  I am not sure about the  spray-on liquid starches - I have a feeling that they  are a permanent seal not good for the fibres - rather like the silicon spray-on polishes for old furniture which do not give the wax and oils that antique woods need and are more varnish than food - but I am no chemist.
This is a cornelli muslin curtain, worked on a tambour frame, used to screen windows from, smoke, the dust of the street, sunshine and  to give complete privacy.  The stitch is done with one hand above the muslin and one below and is a chain stitch and the embroideress follows a pattern drawn with a blue line.  This example shows two little pin holes which are the first sign of wear and tear!

Thursday, 2 January 2014


Our Essex garden before demolition!
           A derelict nursery and remains of peach glasshouses.The ground was full of old cast iron water  
                     pipes, brick foundations, and there were 14 wells to provide water for fruit trees.

           When we moved to our over-large Regency house in Essex, there was a lot to do and there were a lot of old buildings that were in a very bad state.   I decided to make the house pay for most of the improvements by using every asset I could - first was the creation of two single-person flats at the end of the first floor with its own back staircase, which I could let to training personnel from the big local employer who guaranteed the rent and the proper maintenance of the units.(Marconi)
            Next, I cast my eyes over a group of rather rough garages and storeroom/workshop and thought they might be suitable for tenants starting up new small businesses - i.e. moving out of the front room of their own house and wanting to start up on a very modest scale.   I had a willing foreman, builder, handyman who was able to do the necessary improvements and found my hunch was correct - there were lots of would-be tenants wanting a secure, dry, space with water and electricity on a meter.   The Council offered  bigger spaces which were much more expensive BUT tenants had to commit to a two year tenancy, which was too much risk for many.  So I became a Mrs. Rachmann!
           At the same time we were busy with our garden which  my husband completely re-made on the derelict site of old peach houses and a fruit orchard, and then after huge efforts with an old tractor and a handy labourer-gardener,  it was time to make the garden pay a contribution.  Our first planting was a shelter belt against the strong East wind that plagues East Anglia and we had thick belts of euonymus, plain and variegated, as well as lots of fast-growing eucalyptus which all romped away and soon needed cutting back..    I was sorry to see the branches being burnt, but then thought I might find a market for them!  Having had two flower/garden shops previously, I knew that flower arrangers always had great problems finding large branches for the backing of their big event arrangements.   The deadly asparagus fern was the norm!   I then found a wholesale veg/fruit  driver who had an empty lorry returning to Covent Garden from a city nearby,  and he was delighted to have his petrol paid for,. and my foliage went up to my client florist in Covent Garden and was often used to decorate top society weddings and many of the big livery halls in the city of London.  As more flowers, roses, escallonias, alchemilla mollis grew in the garden, I was able to send really big quantities and this was quite a successful venture.  I had to pick, barrow and sort big branches,  late in the day,  then hammer stems,  remove thorns, pour boiling water on some fragile stems to make them last  and immerse all in big tied bunches,  wrapped in polythene sacks cadged from the local farmer - I left them out in the yard overnight and the lorry arrived next early morning and whizzed them up to Covent Garden.  (To be continued)
The lime tree avenue and circle at our Essex house. The flowers and 'keys' were very popular with florists for wedding flower arrangements, but every leaf had to be removed, a slow and boring task.